Can Country’s 2nd Six Months Rescue Sales Slide?

As the second quarter and first half year of 2010 ends, country’s sales total of 18.71 million albums is not overly impressive. Optimists can take solace however, in the knowledge that it is the second half and more precisely the fourth quarter where the year’s totals get etched into the history books. That year-end attack on consumer pocketbooks is precipitated by the holiday gift giving season, which traditionally adds great upward momentum to album sales charts and therefore is the period which also attracts many superstar—high volume—releases.

Year-to-date, that is sales from Jan.—June 2010—Lady Antebellum’s sophomore Need You Now has burned up the charts, leading country’s YTD sales and scanning 2.36 million units according to Nielsen SoundScan. Filling out the Top five highest YTD selling country albums with six month sales numbers are Zac Brown Band (616k), Taylor Swift (587k), Carrie Underwood (451k) and Miranda Lambert (352k). Lady A was the only 2010 debut on the list. But as discussed above, there is a growing list of new releases either officially announced or expected. Trace Adkins (8/17), Jamey Johnson (9/14), Kenny Chesney (9/28) and Sugarland (10/19) are among some of those announced. But insiders are also expecting to see product from artists such as Zac Brown Band, Jason Aldean and Taylor Swift.

Digitally Speaking
Digital sales have accounted YTD for 15.3% of total country album sales. At this time last year, that percentage was 11.4%. All genre consumers purchased about 27% of albums in the digital format, showing that country buyers are still behind the digital curve, but the format’s digital growth shows country catching up. One can assume that purchasing albums in digital format is a trend that will continue growing across the board as shelf space at brick and mortar stores continues to shrink.

Country finally got its own Top 100 digital tracks chart this year, a list of each week’s Top selling downloaded tracks. Some quick math shows this chart scanning about one million tracks per week or perhaps adding an annual “ten-tracks-per-album” equivalent of roughly 7-10 million additional albums to country coffers. While track sales are not sufficient to offset the drop in album sales, they can be a nice bonus for the lucky artists at the top of the chart. For example, this week Carrie Underwood’s “Undo It” sold 48k units and Jaron and the Long Road To Love’s “Pray For You” saw almost 48k transactions. Labels receive about 70¢ from each sale which then gets divided up with publisher, writer, artist and producer royalties, plus other expenses such as overhead.

With the year end still a tumultuous six months away, it would be dangerous to make many predictions. However, if all the above new releases materialize, and perhaps even a few more appear, it’s possible that country could sell the additional 28-30 million albums necessary to end 2010 flat. But even if unit sales do match last year, it seems highly likely that revenue will not. Regardless, after three consecutive down years, this writer’s guess is that most Nashville album marketers would call flat the new up and consider 2010 a success.

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About the Author

David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. [email protected]

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